Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Phil Goff vows to cut council costs

Goff plans to introduce road charges in 2018 when a transport targeted rate of $114 is due to end. Photo / Nick Reed
Goff plans to introduce road charges in 2018 when a transport targeted rate of $114 is due to end. Photo / Nick Reed

Labour MP Phil Goff vows to cut fat, introduce road charges and cap rates rises at 2.5 per cent if he wins the Auckland mayoralty in nine weeks.

His fiscal policy, out today, contains a pledge to restore public confidence in the management of ratepayer money.

The born and raised Aucklander, 63, is a leading contender to replace Len Brown, who is stepping down after a sex scandal and overseeing soaring rates and debt.

"Unfortunately trust and confidence in the council has fallen to a very low level and the expected savings from amalgamation have not been made over the past six years," Goff said.

His fix involves capping rates at 2.5 per cent or less, cutting council spending by between 3 and 6 per cent and introducing road charges.

Targets for savings include the council's $2.4 billion purchase of goods and services and amalgamating the back-office services of its six business arms. "You have got 130 communications staff in council. You have got to wonder whether that figure isn't way above what it could be."

Goff plans to introduce road charges in 2018 when a transport targeted rate of $114 is due to end. He will seek Government approval to replace the targeted rate with a petrol tax and, over time, road tolls or congestion charges. "I cannot conceive of the Government not coming to the party."

He quoted a Treasury report which found Auckland's infrastructure could not be funded out of rates, asset sales would not do it and there was a limit to council debt. "Whoever is in Government after next year is going to accept the reality that we have to have some form of road pricing.

"If we do not put more into infrastructure this city will grind to a halt," Goff said.

The Government has not ruled out road pricing in Auckland, but is cool on the idea.

Last week, Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the city's roading and public transport network needed to be finished before road charges would be considered.

Goff is keen on other ways of funding a $17b to $20b infrastructure shortfall, such as infrastructure bonds, expanding the Government's $1b infrastructure fund and public-private partnerships.

"While more than half of New Zealand's growth is in Auckland, the extra GST and income tax collected goes to central Government," he said.

"I will advocate for Auckland to get its fair share of that extra revenue to pay for servicing that growth."

Goff promises not to sell shares in Auckland Airport or Watercare Services. He will not sell port land and would not contemplate selling the port business until its long-term future was resolved. He favours a national strategy that could involve the merger of Auckland and Tauranga ports.

He supports the sale of non-strategic assets and said council may have to look at getting the best return on the $500m invested in golf courses.

The policy

• Average rates increases at 2.5 per cent or less

• Cut council spending by between 3 and 6 per cent

• Change council culture to make it more effective and responsive

• Keep strategic assets and sell non-strategic assets

• Work with Government to introduce petrol tax, tolls and/or congestion charges

• Work to examine infrastructure bonds as alternative to rates

Heat ahead for city chief

Phil Goff plans to put the heat on council chief executive Stephen Town to change the culture of the Super City.

The mayoral candidate says a council survey showing only 15 per cent of Aucklanders are satisfied with the council is poor.

"The council is viewed by many as a bloated and unwieldy bureaucracy which ignores the views of Aucklanders while presiding over soaring rates and debt," Goff said when the survey was released in June. Today, the Labour MP has pledged to make a change in culture a top priority to rebuild trust and confidence in council.

"I don't know Stephen Town well but reports I get on him [say] he is a competent chief executive. That doesn't mean ... he wouldn't benefit from ... some pretty strong mayoral direction," Goff said.

A council spokeswoman said Town will not be commenting on any candidate's policies.

- NZ Herald

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